My stomach turns and pushes acid into my throat. I’m not sure if it’s from the whiskey I’ve been guzzling or this guy’s driving. I’m pretty sure he’s been asking me questions the whole ride, but thankfully it’s impossible to hear through the machine-gun patter of rain outside and the static-ridden radio he has turned up way too loud. The cab peels right around a corner and I must press my hand down to avoid sliding across the seat. My knees clench the precious brown bag between them. His brakes must be in mint condition, but the interior is far from it. The worn-down faux leather has so many stains it almost looks like a pattern print. The heater is blasting so much that the air has become thick and humid. I’m being driven around in a sweaty boot. It smells like it too. It’s times like these I wish I could afford a limo. I try to roll down my window, but it doesn’t budge. Damn it.
“Can I roll down the window?” I ask.
“What’s that, Pete?” he says.
I’ve spent my entire life telling people there’s an “r” at the end of my name.
“Turn up the heater?”
“No! The fucking window!”
“I can’t hear you.”
He turns down the radio.
“Can you unlock my window?”
“So we drown? No thanks. Not sure where you’re from, but
we don’t have the luxury of driving with the windows down. Sorry, Pete.”
He cranks up the radio.
“I don’t have the luxury to breathe!”
“Did ya say something?” he yells.
I can’t take this anymore. The cork lid comes off my whiskey bottle with a pop, and I put the brown bag to my lips. Like getting punched in the stomach, it doesn’t hurt until you breathe. I blow the fire out of my throat, and the caterpillars in the mirror jump. The radio goes down again.
“Whoa, whoa, you can’t drink in here, my friend. I can lose my license.”
I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand and push the cork back in.
“I was thirsty.”
“I’ve heard that before. You gotta be careful with that stuff, my friend. I lost my cousin to the bottle. Young guy too . . . lots of potential, but that stuff will get ya. He came to Seattle for school, to become a doctor. Smart kid. It’s a real shame, my aunt was so torn up. Breaks my heart to think about. Funeral was sad.”
“Aren’t all funerals sad?” I ask.
He shrugs off the question and rifles through his pockets. It smells like something’s burning. Jesus, he lit a fucking cigarette. I try the window again. Still locked. Holding my breath, I look out through the windshield and see the faint tungsten glow of the streetlamps I know all too well. We’ve arrived.
“Tell me where’s good.” He puffs. “Just pull over here.”
He slams on the brakes with a fifty-pound foot and I catch myself on his seat. I pay him, grab my bottle, and kick the door open. The rain is roaring. I step onto the concrete and stare at my feet, a minor obstacle to the water that is racing off the sides, just as the architect had designed it.
“Hey, you’re not gonna jump, are ya, Pete?”
The driver has his window rolled down with his cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“Look, buddy, I don’t know you and I don’t want to judge. But you got the bottle there and this bridge has a history of sorts, ya know? You just got all the makings and, I don’t know. I don’t wanna read in the paper tomorrow that somethin’ happened and I coulda stopped it, ya know? I can’t be all feeling like it was my responsibility. Couldn’t live with it. Don’t do that to me, man.”
My fist clenches. I press the bottle to my lips and take a gulp of fire. I lean down so I can look him in the eye.
“Listen, you stinky prick. You don’t know a goddamn thing about this bridge. All that shit you read in the papers, that isn’t reality. It’s a heartless, parasitic form of storytelling with no regard for what life truly feels like at times. It may be what helps you pass the time when you’re not sucking on that cancer stick driving a sweaty boot around, but trust me, pal, you couldn’t fucking stop me even if you tried.”
I quickly reach for the cigarette, but he leans back, throws the car into drive, and blows smoke into my face. The tires spin in place before they catch, and he peels out.
“Yeah, smell you later!” I shout.
What starts as small polka dots on my sweatpants quickly becomes a dark gray dampness. The rain clinks against the neck of the bottle as I take a swig from the bag, breathe fire, and wipe my mouth with my wrist. Unlike your typical suspension bridge, the Aurora is just a flat cantilever and trussrunning from Queen Anne to Fremont. I lean over the railing and watch the pouring rain fall past me, down into the darkness below. A true black hole. A way out. I think about it every time I’m here. Everyone does. Whether they’re on a rooftop, a bridge, a cliff. It has nothing to do with being suicidal. I think it’s more of human nature trying to comprehend how vulnerable we really are. Curiosity is the word. Those thoughts scare most people, but to me they’re soothing. It’s like a fucked- up form of meditation. I find some peace in knowing there’s always an escape.